70km Taza – Oulad Ayad

A tasty tagine for lunchHuge squash, bigger than weToday was full of fantastic experiences, the best not coming until the very end of the day, and all brought to us courtesy of our bicycles. A year ago we hardly cycled at all and two years ago we would never have considered taking a holiday on a bike, but now our bicycles are the way for us to see the world through new eyes, away from the sterile travel of trains and airports. All along our route today people seemed to be cheering us on with honks, waves and shouts. We started to feel like we were in the Tour de France, except we don’t climb hills nearly as well! Lunch was a stop at a tagine stand and after mopping up every last drop of the stew juices with bread we carried on, through miles of olive groves where huge piles of the black fruit sat waiting to be collected and pressed into oil. This must be the agricultural heartland of Morocco because after the miles of olive trees came the biggest butternut squash we had ever seen. They were easily the size of young children and hung in great quantites at stalls along the main highway.

The mother bird coming back to feed her babiesThe afternoon also brought us the rare sight of a huge stork landing at her nest on top of a building, bringing food to her young. Before we knew it the day was nearly over and we were hard pressed to find a camping spot. The main road was too busy to and a side road marked on our map didn’t seem to exist.

We took a chance and followed a little path that ran between a few shops and into some fields, hoping to get far enough away from the traffic to pitch our tent in peace for the night. We tried in French to ask two teenagers tending sheep if we could camp in the area. For the next hour we discussed football, families, jobs, Morocco, bicycles, whiskey – nearly every topic under the sun but our camping question only met with blank stares! We had the feeling, however, that we were in no danger here and started to set up the tent as the whole village came out to say hello and watch.

Just as dusk was falling, a young boy came to ask us a question. His French was very limited though and all we understood was “manger” or “eat” — we said no as we had already eaten but he refused to go away until finally we nodded. A “yes”. He ran off in great excitement and we were not sure what we had let ourselves in for. As we waited for the boy to return, another Moroccan came towards us, this time speaking very good French. Omar was heading home, a journey of four kilometers across the fields, in near total darkness, but a trip he had been doing for six years and knew very well without any need for a flashlight. We explained our dilema and chatted while he waited with us for the boy to come back. Before long the boy, who we later learned was called Mohammed, returned with a tray full of bread, oil, butter and a hot pot of mint tea.

What hospitality for complete strangers, in a society where so often people have so little. We asked Omar if we could give a little money for this treat and he very strongly said no, it would not be polite.

In Morocco travellers are welcomed and everything is shared. Our offer to send a postcard to Mohammed was accepted, however, and we also sent him back with a bar of dark chocolate to share with the family. Whether dark chocolate, which has hardly any sugar, will be to the taste of the sugar-loving Moroccans we aren’t sure. A wonderful day with some very unexpected sights and encounters.